My feet were dangling off the chair lift as I contemplated how far the ground was below my skis. It was my first-time skiing. I felt awkward and uncomfortable. I was contemplating giving up. Then I vividly remembered seeing my first client while working towards my Master’s in Social Work. In my head I was thinking, “Wow, this woman has some significant concerns, she should see someone for help.” I realized that I was that “someone.” Feeling overwhelmed and uncomfortable then, I wondered if I should give up.
This morning I had an opportunity to go to a shared workspace called, The Wing. I wondered if I could make phone calls there, if they had coffee, and if it would be comfortable and friendly. I thought about going to a familiar Starbucks. Forcing myself to press the buttons on the elevator, I felt self-conscious, uncomfortable and thought about giving up.
None of the above examples felt good or comfortable. All of the uncomfortable feelings caused me to question myself and what I was doing. I thought about surrendering to the fear and discomfort and giving up. In all three cases, thankfully, I didn’t. I skied down the mountain. I connected with my client. At the workspace, I had coffee, was productive, and ran into someone I knew! In all those examples I had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable in order to do something positive. While these moments seem like minor accomplishments in the grand scheme of life, each uncomfortable experience that you face helps you become a little more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Not to mention that the practice of feeling uncomfortable, in the relatively less impactful moments is the practice you need to face the bigger and more impactful uncomfortable moments, like your first summer at away camp, going off to college, starting a new job, or moving to a new place.
Now, I am not saying that feeling of being uncomfortable feels good or goes away. It is uncomfortable, after all. At every stage in our lives, there are moments, big and small, that will make you feel uncomfortable. One of the most important skills that every person needs to develop is finding a way to be comfortable, feeling uncomfortable. If you do not develop the skill of being comfortable while feeling uncomfortable, then you are, and will stay, stuck. You can not move forward or grow as a person if you are stuck. The way to get unstuck is to find ways to be comfortable while feeling uncomfortable.
Let’s start by taking smart risks and knowing where your supports are. When I was sitting on the chairlift for the first time, feeling uncomfortable, I knew that people go skiing every day and that the group instructor was there waiting for me. When I was looking into the eyes of my very first client, feeling uncomfortable, I remembered that this was what I was in school to do. I knew I took classes and knew that my Social Work supervisor was going to review the session with me too. When I was stepping into the shared workspace, feeling uncomfortable, I knew that people before me had figured it out. I had my computer, phone, and could network with people. I believed in myself and that, however self-conscious I felt, I could face the unknown. In each of these situations, I knew it was a safe risk. I knew what my supports were, and I knew I would never be able to move forward in the life experiences I wanted if I didn’t find comfort in being uncomfortable.
We live in a world where we see the very feeling of being uncomfortable as “bad” and a thing to avoid. The more we avoid the thing that makes us uncomfortable the more anxious we become about the uncomfortable feeling. Avoiding the uncomfortable feeling gets in the way of doing the things we want to do, of growing, and truly living the lives we want to live. Ironically, avoiding the uncomfortable feeling does not make us less uncomfortable, but actually makes us anxious. When there is an avoidance of feeling uncomfortable we unconsciously begin to doubt our abilities and become insecure. That grows our anxiety and makes us anxious. The anxiety brings more self-doubt and self-doubt makes us uncomfortable. It is a vicious circle of feeling uncomfortable, avoidance, self-doubt, anxiety, and back to feeling uncomfortable. It keeps us stuck, insecure, and anxious.
The interesting thing is that the antidote for anxiety, self-doubt, and being stuck is to find comfort in feeling uncomfortable. We have to learn that feeling uncomfortable is not harmful, but actually helpful. We have to allow those around us to feel uncomfortable and not rescue them from that feeling. We have to model that we can feel uncomfortable and get through that feeling by facing it. When feeling uncomfortable in a situation, remind yourself of your preparation for that situation, your support systems, and believe in a positive outcome. By finding a level of comfort in the uncomfortable we can push forward in a positive way and embrace life to the fullest.
The good news is, we can get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. We just need to practice. Get on that chairlift, believe in the preparation you get in your education and training, trust in who you are, and try new things. Embrace the feeling of being uncomfortable and teach yourself what you need in those uncomfortable moments to feel that fear, and do that thing anyway. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.